Miller Thomson LLP has launched a legal knowledge centre in Vancouver in what the managing partner in British Columbia calls "a quest to be more relevant in 2017."
“I’m not saying there’s something not relevant about legal advice, but you don’t want to practice law like it’s 1960 and we don’t want to try and organize our work like it’s 1960,” says Mike Walker, Miller Thomson's managing partner for B.C. “Our people are loving it, and clients have been very receptive.”
“We’ve got all the usual software for knowledge management and document management and all that but we wanted our space to facilitate working creatively with those systems rather than the space working against them.”
The multi-million dollar, 48,000 square foot centre launched publically on May 30 but has been in operation for eight weeks now. The firm’s entire Vancouver office now operates out of the centre, but had kept the move quiet until they were up and running and had “the bugs ironed out,” Walker says.
The legal centre is “designed to serve as a platform for the firm’s business, startup and public agency clients seeking legal solutions.”
The centre will offer educational programs, host roundtables and seek new ways to work with clients.
But the firm’s move is also a way “to pilot new approaches and a way to change the mindset of all of our people,” Walker says, noting they need “a lot more contact between people in the office, a lot more knowledge and information moving back and forth.”
“A lot of it is intergenerational,” he says, adding that younger lawyers tend to want to work with veterans to get access to their wealth of knowledge, but it works both ways.
“Our veterans actually have a lot to learn from younger people who have different ways to use technology, different ways to relate to clients, different ways to move information around.”
Walker says the firm is “very close” to migrating its entire practice onto a paper-free platform. Any law firm can do it if they choose to, he says, and a lot of clients already have.
“It’s the younger people who are already using new platforms that enable us to do that. That invites us to work differently with clients.”
They idea is to find new collaboration platforms to exchange information in real time, not just in the physical office. This is important because a lot of the time the firm’s clients don’t come near the office - they could be anywhere in the world. This means moving being their current platforms, but what exactly the new areas will be is still up in the air.
Walker says there are some technology gaps to be filled as they go along, and his tech people are just now filling them in about how people in other industries are moving information around, but for lawyers there is an extra layer of caution.
“We’re trying to adapt that to the legal field because we are concerned as ever about confidentiality and security of data and security of our clients’ information so we can’t use just any old platform,” he says. “We can’t just start using Drop Box right off the shelf.”
But the starting point, he adds, is being open to saying, OK, we all learned email in 1997 so what should we be learning now, what should we be innovating now?
With knowledge access and client engagement top-of-mind, the centre is on one floor and most of the personnel working there, including the lawyers, work in flexible open-concept layouts.
“Slightly fewer than half our lawyers opted to maintain somewhat of a traditional office and everybody else is working in open plan and mobile in the workplace, working in different locations and different times of the day for different purposes,” Walker says.
The national business law firm has upwards of 525 lawyers across 12 offices, with just under 70 lawyers working at the new centre.